An Indian woman looks after her child at the encephalitis ward of the Baba Raghav Das Hospital in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. The state chief minister was facing calls for his resignation after dozens of children died at the hospital due to oxygen shortage. Image Credit: AFP

New Delhi: Tragedy continued to descend upon Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das (BRD) Medical College Hospital as another child succumbed to encephalitis on Monday taking the death toll to 72.

On August 10-11, the supply of liquid oxygen dipped to a critical low at BRD Hospital. As many as 30 children died that day at the hospital with parents blaming the oxygen shortage for most deaths.

But Uttar Pradesh (UP) state government officials on Monday denied shortage of oxygen caused deaths in the hospital. The BRD Hospital also maintained that there was a shortage of oxygen only for about three hours on Friday, after the hospital’s regular vendor stopped supply, but that liquid oxygen was soon sourced from other places.

On Monday, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a notice to UP state government, calling for a detailed report in the deaths of over 70 children at BRD Hospital in the last six days.

NHRC has also inquired about the steps taken for relief and rehabilitation of the affected families and action taken against the guilty officers.

The Commission observed that the deaths amounted to serious violation of right to life and health of the victims.

“This indicates towards gross callousness on part of the hospital administration and the medical education and health departments of the government of Uttar Pradesh. Earlier too, we came across several instances of deaths in hospitals in Uttar Pradesh due to Encephalitis,” the NHRC notice read.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the Supreme Court (SC) refused to take suo motu cognisance of deaths of children. Hearing a petition seeking a probe into the incident by a Special Investigation Team, the Bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud asked the petitioner to approach Allahabad High Court for the matter.

All this comes even as the state government removed Dr Kafeel Khan as Nodal Officer for Department of Pediatrics of BRD Hospital.

Political analysts believe the tragedy has unnecessarily assumed a communal hue.

“We need to know how long the children were ill before they were brought into the hospital, what conditions they were brought in, only then can responsibility be pinned down. It is sad that Dr Khan is being targeted just because he belongs to minority community,” political commentator Vivek Saxena told Gulf News.

Political analyst Vijay Chaturvedi feels one should refrain from communalising the horrific tragedy.

“Many factors may have contributed in different ways to the deaths of so many children. It is unfortunate that Dr Khan who was the hero the other day, is a villain today. We really don’t know the truth but one should not attack someone just because of his religious or political identity,” says Chaturvedi.

Meanwhile, hitting out at the Yogi Adityanath government, Shiv Sena party described the tragedy as “mass murder.”

“The sufferings of the poor don’t move our politicians. And that is the failure of our Independence. Thankfully, the government has at least admitted that there are so many deaths in Gorakhpur. If children really do die in August each year, how come children of politicians and local strongmen are spared? Death doesn’t visit their homes? This is mass murder of children,” Shiv Sena said in an editorial in its mouthpiece ‘Samna.’

The Congress party too has demanded a SC-monitored probe into the tragedy.

“It is a complete administrative failure at their end and if Minister of State for Health Faggan Singh Kulaste thinks that there is a conspiracy then a Supreme Court-monitored inquiry would be ideal,” Congress leader Tom Vadakkan told media.

Moved by the tragedy, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Varun Gandhi on Monday pledged Rs50 million from his Member of Parliament (MP) Development Fund to build a state-of-the-art paediatric wing in his constituency Sultanpur’s district hospital.

“The human tragedy in Gorakhpur has left me jolted. The incident must act as an impetus to take actions that serve as a deterrent to recurrence of such an event,” Gandhi told Gulf News.